EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization, and Reprocessing is a technique that has been shown to produce positive results in the treatment of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and disturbing memories or thoughts, as well as other psychological disturbances. EMDR has even been shown to be effective in substance abuse and addiction treatment.

The technique was initially developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., in the late 1980s. Shapiro noticed that moving her eyes in a certain way enabled her to process her own disturbing thoughts more effectively. She commenced on a long and rigorous course of experimentation, research, and study to determine how and why the technique works.

EMDR Therapy for Addiction

Shapiro theorized that the eye movements used in EMDR mimic REM, the rapid eye movement which happens during dreaming. The bilateral stimulation of the left and right hemispheres of the brain seems to facilitate the processing of unresolved or “frozen” disturbing or traumatic memories that have previously remained stored in the brain, and that can be re-experienced as flashbacks when triggered, causing the symptoms of PTSD.

In terms of EMDR for addiction treatment, effective therapies address the underlying issues associated with the addiction, and many of these may also be disturbing or traumatic memories. With EMDR processing, the memory is resolved or “processed,” and the symptoms abate. After many studies and trials, EMDR is now recognized as an effective, evidence-based tool in treating PTSD and addiction. The technique can also be successfully used to treat a variety of psychiatric disorders, mental health problems, and somatic symptoms. Particularly with the frequency of trauma and adverse childhood and life experiences among addicts and alcoholics, EMDR is a valuable tool in the substance abuse treatment setting.

The technique is a standardized series of procedures and protocols which incorporates bilateral visual, auditory, and/or tactile stimulation. The therapist introduces the back and forth eye movement or other bilateral stimulation. Simultaneously, the client identifies and re-processes the disturbance, negative thoughts, and future templates associated with the disturbing experience. This allows the client to resolve the disturbance, end any flashbacks brought on by triggers, and develop a view of positive adaptive future outcomes. Thus, EMDR enables the client to process the past, triggers in the present, and future templates that have created maladaptive responses and behaviors based on unprocessed past negative experiences.

My experience as an EMDR therapy for addiction practitioner is nothing short of amazement at the efficacy of this simple yet powerful technique. By waving my fingers (in a specific, timed, and calculated manner) in front of my client’s eyes and having them follow my fingers with their eyes while remembering the event, thought, or sensation that is disturbing them, they can move through what might take weeks of talk therapy (if they were even able to access it in that way) in a few, sometimes even one, short session(s). EMDR is not a cure-all but is a very effective tool that can enhance many different therapeutic modalities. It incorporates CBT, Visualization, Breath-work, DBT, EFT, Gestalt, Hypnosis, Internal Family Systems Theory, NLP, Solution Focused Therapy, Somatic Experiencing, and Congruent Therapies as various components.

I am so excited to offer EMDR therapy for substance abuse and PTSD recovery as a healing modality and tool here at Beachway. This technique provides our clients with proven, evidence-based therapies to help them heal from addictions and the underlying trauma that can fuel them. EMDR therapy for addiction treatment offers a true release from the past, present, and future disturbances of past trauma and the related persistent and progressive cycle of addiction.

Elizabeth Ossip, LCSW is a Primary Therapist at Beachway Therapy Center and a specialist in trauma treatment.

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